[lg policy] Linguist List Issue: Indian Government Stand on Endangered Languages

Tue Sep 7 13:46:23 UTC 2010

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Message1: Indian Government Stand on Endangered Languages
From:Thangi Chhangte chhangte at gmail.com
LINGUIST List issue http://linguistlist.org/issues/21/21-3554.html 

New Delhi, Aug 30: 

Misgivings over a UNESCO report that has described 191 Indian languages as
endangered and five as extinct have prompted the Centre to begin work on a
white paper on tribal languages in each state.

Sixty-four languages that the latest UNESCO World Atlas of Endangered
Languages describes as endangered are spoken in the Northeast and along the
India-Nepal border. Thirty-nine are spoken in the Northeast alone.

'Many of the languages listed as dead or endangered are very much alive and
kicking. The government has decided to send fact-finding teams to every
state to document the tribal languages, especially those declared dying or
dead by UNESCO,' a tribal affairs ministry official said.

The Centre for Tribal and Endangered Languages, a division of the Central
Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore, has been assigned the job. 'The CIIL
will bring out a white paper. That would be hard evidence which can be
presented before any international body,' the official said. Work is
already on with the head of the Centre for Tribal and Endangered Languages,
Prof. G. Devi Prasada Shastri, visiting the Northeast.

Tribal leaders had brought the matter to the government's notice. 'We
received representations that the widely spoken Aimol and Tarao had been
put on the Unesco list,' the official said.

The two languages figure on UNESCO's critically endangered list, which
would mean they are spoken only by the elderly and that too infrequently
and partially. Aimol Literature Society chairman S.L. Warte termed the
Unesco report "unfortunate" and demanded correction.

'The population that speaks Andro, Aimol and Tarao may not be large, but
these languages are being spoken," said Ch. Jashobanta, a linguistics
professor at Manipur University.'

Jashobanta, however, agreed that the languages would count as endangered by
international standards because less than 10,000 people speak them.

The CIIL says there is confusion over the definition of language. "Most
languages listed in UNESCO's e-atlas are not considered languages but
mother tongues in India. We go by the Census 2001 definition. If there are
10,000 or more speakers, it's a language, else it's a mother tongue," a
CIIL researcher said.

Mother tongues are not included in the Eighth Schedule, a list of 22
officially recognized languages. "Only if a language is in the Eighth
Schedule will it be taught in schools as part of the three-language
formula,'' said Aravind Sachdeva, a specialist on tribal languages. He
pointed to an increasing tendency among tribals to speak Hindi or English
as the reason for their languages being labeled endangered.

But Asam Sahitya Sabha president Rongbong Terang and educationist Tabu Ram
Taid believe tribals can protect their languages. 'I don't think any tribal
language of Assam would ever become extinct. I can speak Assamese, English,
Hindi and many other languages. But my mother tongue is Karbi and I speak
Karbi with my family and friends,' Terang said, describing the UNESCO
report as exaggerated. Karbi is on the list as a vulnerable language.

Taid, closely associated with the preservation of his mother tongue Mising,
too disagrees with the UNESCO report. Mising, on UNESCO's endangered list,
is spoken by 517,170 people out of a population of 587,310, according to
the 2001 census. 'Mising today has a firm written tradition and has even
been introduced in primary schools,'  Taid said.

An email seeking UNESCO's response went unanswered till Saturday evening. 

Linguistic Field(s): Anthropological Linguistics
                     Language Documentation

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